MIFF 2021 short film winners announced

The eight winners of the MIFF Short Film Awards are internationally flavoured, even the Australian ones.
Baltasar

The winners of the Short Film Awards at the Melbourne International Film Festival 2021 (MIFF) were announced last night in a virtual ceremony hosted on MIFF Play. They are an international bunch, with even the winner of Best Australian Short Film, Brietta Hague’s Baltasar, shot and set in Barcelona as a Spanish-Australian co-production.

Next week, we will bring you an interview with Brietta Hague, who is an experienced, internationally-minded journalist and filmmaker who has been mentored by Werner Herzog, and cites his boldness as an inspiration. Hague is perhaps best known in film circles as a producer of Brooke Goldfinch’s stunning ‘end times’ Screen Australia-supported short film Red Rover (2015). For now, we report that the Sydney-based Hague, a 2021 MIFF Accelerator participant, is ‘thrilled’ to win the $11,000 prize, and says that the ambitious and sensitively performed 20-minute drama grew out of her work as an Al Jazeera correspondent in Spain, researching the plight of undocumented Senegalese migrants.

Eight out of the 80 short films in the MIFF program received awards from the jury that consisted of award-winning journalist Osman Faruqi, writer/director Natalie Erika James (Relic) and industry expert Alexandra Burke.

Read: MIFF short film ‘You and Me, Before and After’ selected for Toronto

While 2021 is the 69th MIFF, it’s the 60th anniversary of the short film competition, which must set some kind of national record. This year’s winning filmmakers received more than $63,000 in prizes, but the biggest prize is perhaps the fact that these awards are accredited by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, resulting in half the short category winners now being eligible for next year’s Oscars.

The winning films are now available to watch for free as part of the Best MIFF Shorts package, which screens until Sunday 22 August, with audio description and open captions.

2021 MIFF SHORT FILM WINNERS

  • City of Melbourne Grand Prix for Best Short Film – The Game (Switzerland) Dir. Roman Hodel
  • Film Victoria Erwin Rado Award for Best Australian Short Film – Baltasar (Australia, Spain) Dir. Brietta Hague
  • Award for Emerging Australian Filmmaker – Dir. Jordan Giusti Reptile (Australia)
  • Award for Best Fiction Short Film – Lili Alone (China, Hong Kong, Singapore) Dir. Zou Jing
  • Award for Best Documentary Short Film – Listen to the Beat of Our Images (France) Dir. Audrey Jean-Baptiste and Maxime Jean-Baptiste
  • Award for Best Animation Short Film – Gravedad (Germany) Dir. Matisse Gonzalez
  • Award for Best Experimental Short Film – Happy Valley (Hong Kong) Dir. Simon Liu
  • Blackmagic Award for Best Cinematography in a Short Film – Lizard (Nigeria, UK) Dir. Akinola Davies Jr

JURY STATEMENTS

Of the Grand Prix Best Short Film Winner, Roman Hodel’s The Game, from Switzerland, the jury said:

The beauty of The Game is taking something so common it’s almost mundane: a completely random football match between two teams you don’t know, let alone care about, and literally shifting the lens to focus on something we very rarely see – the referee. Through this simple, yet brilliant, conceit, we watch as the referee controls the flow of the game, manages his officials, and responds to the pressure and outrage of fans in the crowd, as well as the players. The Game not only gives us an intimate insight into the daily intensity of being a referee, but also lets us see things from their perspective: the control, the doubt and the commitment.

Of Baltasar, winner of the Film Victoria Erwin Rado Award for Best Australian Short Film, the jury said:

Brietta Hague’s impressive debut, Baltasar, explores racial prejudices over the Three Kings holiday in Spain with nuanced and vibrant writing, an unflinching eye and empathy for all. Babou Cham is compelling as Aziz – a migrant father working to provide for his family in Senegal – and beautifully captures his quiet dignity and heartbreak in the midst of displacement. This is assured storytelling that lulls you into a false sense of security before going for the jugular.

Director Jordan Guiusti received the Award for Emerging Australian Filmmaker for the film Reptile. In 2020, Guiusti was nominated for a Crystal Bear in Berlin in the Generation 14plus – Best Short Film comp for Grevillea, which was also nominated for a Dendy Award at Sydney Film Festival. Of Reptile, the jury said:

Propelled by extraordinarily natural and confident performances, Reptile is both a darkly funny and terrifying interrogation of male aggression and toxicity. The film does a superb job of setting up charming, relatable protagonists and a scenario that seems harmless enough, before demonstrating how something as innocent as school children playing a game can descend into brutality when men are left to their own devices. The tension and the chaos continue to ratchet up until the characters eventually realise that, even though they are the architects of their downfall, they can’t escape.

Lili Alone, Zou Jing’s film from China, Hong Kong and Singapore won the Best Fiction Short Film. Lili Alone with the Leitz Cine Discovery Prize at Cannes 2021. The MIFF jury said:

Zou Jing’s masterful debut is an intimate look at one woman’s endeavour to save her dying father by earning money as a surrogate. Anchored by Huang Lili’s captivating and understated central performance, the film explores the quiet tragedy of personal loss and the injustices of the disposable and disadvantaged within the thrall of a city thrumming with life. Lili Alone takes us on a gut-wrenching journey that manages to find moments of joy and connection even in darkness, and leaves us with images that linger long after the credits roll.

The Award for Best Documentary Short Film went to the French film Listen to the Beat of Our Images, directed by Audrey Jean-Baptiste and Maxime Jean-Baptiste. The jury said:

Listen to the Beat of Our Images is a gripping micro-history, told through video essay, about the transformation of one’s homeland by the forces of imperialism and colonialism. The way the archival footage is edited makes it clear how alien and unnatural the presence of a French space centre is in this context. And while the film climaxes with a rocket blasting into the atmosphere, rather than evoking a sense of elation or satisfaction, we’re left feeling melancholy for a land expropriated. There’s no joy; there’s despair for what was lost.

The Award for Best Animation Short Film went to German film Gravedad, directed by Matisse Gonzalez. The jury statement:

Gravedad leads us into an imaginative world where one woman’s emotionally light and heavy days are rendered beautifully through physical gravity. Employing a charming line-animation style with comically disproportionate and offbeat characters, pitch-perfect narration and score, Gravedad examines the emotional cost of chasing one’s dreams and tackles big philosophical questions with great humour, whimsy and pathos.

Happy Valley (Hong Kong), directed by Simon Liu, won the Award for Best Experimental Short Film. The jury said:

Happy Valley captures the little things in its sensorial portrait of the Hong Kong district. Each shot is deliberate, from the half-constructed sidewalk and the soft silk scarf on a mannequin, to night-time strobe lights and the kids on a fun-park ride. The sum of these parts forms the fabric of life in Happy Valley. The distorted sound design brings a sense of repetition, constantly flicking between radio stations, and days seem to pass indistinguishably from the next. This time, however, there is a sad irony in Liu’s ‘sense of place’. Those captured little moments – the depiction of time passing from one day to the next, of perseverance – are not lost on us. This beautifully rendered film hits you with an emotional blow as Hong Kong prepares for a future unknown.

The Blackmagic Award for Best Cinematography in a Short Film went to Lizard (Nigeria, UK), directed by Akinola Davies Jr. This is a film that’s already won the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2021. The jury said:

The cinematography of Lizard is as rich as the world it depicts – a textural, vibrant Lagos in the 90s through the eyes of an eight-year-old girl. DOP Shabier Kirchner’s frame establishes the gated confines of a wealthy Christian megachurch. We follow the girl down dimly lit corridors, where flickering blue light reflects on murky puddles. She witnesses seedy dealings through doors that should not be open. Between shelves, inappropriate advances and abuses of power take place. With little dialogue, it is through the lens that we feel the girl’s acute sense of danger, her growing awareness that the words of the preacher do not match the corrupt actions of the congregation. There are elements of fantasy and imagination, the girl’s own imprint on her lived experience. And, with the tensions rising, Lizard culminates in a brilliantly captured handheld action sequence, a rare feat in the format.

Rochelle Siemienowicz is a journalist for Screenhub. She is a writer, film critic and cultural commentator with a PhD in Australian cinema. She was the co-host of Australia's longest-running film podcast 'Hell is for Hyphenates' and has written a memoir, Fallen, published by Affirm Press. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram